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Lack of Training, Outdated Textbooks Blamed for America’s Science Teachers' Misconceptions About Climate Change

Lack of Training, Outdated Textbooks Blamed for America’s Science Teachers' Misconceptions About Climate Change

A recent study released by the National Center for Science Education found that surprising percentage of America’s science teachers have a hard time teaching the science behind climate change that is agreed on by 95 percent of the scientific community.

About 30 percent of science teachers, the study found, are sending students mixed messages about the science behind climate change by not telling students that humans- not natural causes- are to blame for global warming.

This leaves the science behind climate change up for debate despite climate change scientists being decided.

According to NPR, a lack of training in college and the tendency of science textbooks to be outdated are two potential reasons behind the disconnect.

NPR talked to Molly Sloss, an eighth grade science teacher who said she only took two “good” science courses her entire college career.

"Luckily, Sloss says, 'my mother was a middle school science teacher, so I pulled on her a lot,’” NPR said.

And for teachers who rely wholly on science textbooks to dictate their teaching, they’re more likely to teach outdated concepts.

Middle-school science teacher Susan Oltman told NPR that outdated science textbooks put a significant burden on teachers to do their own research to remain up-to-date.

Oltman told NPR that in order to stay current, she spent time at sea studying with climate change scientists. But not all teachers have time in their already-busy schedules to make such a commitment.

NCSE team member Josh Rosenau agreed with NPR’s idea that many teachers lack formal training on the subject.

"The median US teacher is 41 years old, meaning half of the teachers would have graduated college before about 1995. That means they finished their formal education before groups like the IPCC were prepared to confidently attribute climate change to human activities,” he said on the NCSE blog.

" While teachers could (and many do) seek out updated science education, there are few sources routinely provided to teachers on this and other developing topics of scientific interest,” he said.

Rosenau also agrees with the idea that outdated textbooks are partly to blame- but adds another reason into the mix as well.

"A final culprit is teachers’ experiences outside the classroom. What teachers hear from other parents as they watch their children play soccer, or as they wait in line at the store affects how they teach, as does what they hear on local talk radio, read in the papers, and pick up in conversations after church,” he said.

"If they live in a community where climate change is controversial, it’s understandable that they would incorporate the community’s doubts into their teaching. In the survey, few teachers reported any overt pressure not to teach climate change, but the subtle pressure of everyday experience can be far more powerful than an overt challenge.”

Read Rosenau’s full post here. Read the NPR story here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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